How to Shop Estate Sales

How to Shop Estate Sales

We know that shopping estate sales seems mysterious to most people. They’ve heard there are great bargains to be found, but don’t know the ropes and are intimidated by the crowds and dealers. We thought it would be helpful to outline a few basic steps on how estate sales work, how to find & how to shop estate sales.


First things first, how to find estate sales. Go to EstateSales.net, EstateSales.org, or EstateSale.com and sign up to receive weekly announcements to find estate sales in your area. Check listings and photos carefully for styles that you like and pick one or two estate sales to attend in a weekend. More than that could be overwhelming.
Resist temptation to call about specific items because it might cause the dealer to raise the price. If you do feel the need to contact the company, it should be to ask how their estate sale works because every sale is run differently. Questions to ask are if they start exactly at the stated opening time, is there a sign up sheet, what is the recommended arrival time, and what payment methods are accepted.

How do estate sales work? On the day of the sale, prices are not negotiable when the sale first opens for at least the first hour. Estate sales themselves are a relatively short period of time to liquidate decades worth of personal property, so for each hour of the sale the liquidator is evaluating supply and demand for certain items. If the sale opens at 8 am, by 10 or 11 am, the liquidator may be ready to negotiate on prices.

Estate liquidators are in this business out of a love for old things. It is labor intensive and the profit margins are slim. Liquidators often do much of the hard labor themselves with a small crew, which can include very dirty work like digging in basements and attics. Someone who’s this invested is easily annoyed by low ball offers, so use caution when making offers. Offers must be fair. A great way to start the process is to ask if prices are negotiable. Let them know what items you’re interested in buying. When just starting the conversation, the worst things you can say are “What’s your best price,” “I’ll give you such and such amount” or “How about X amount” as you need to establish that negotiating is even an option! “May I make you an offer” or “Would you be willing to take less,” along with a smile, will get you much further.

A genuine good attitude goes a long way. Be yourself and be friendly. Estate liquidators have dealt with the public for decades and can see through fake niceties. If you make an offer and the answer is “No,” only really well seasoned shoppers will be able to change that to a “Yes.” Hounding and harassing will not work and may make things worse. The best thing you can do at that point is leave the sale and try back an hour or so later to see if the item is still there.

If you see items that are not marked it usually means that they will be valued at $20 and under. Start with the small things. Find a box and pick out anything you’d like to buy that’s not marked. Once you’ve made your way through the sale, take those to the check out counter and find out what the price is going to be. The more you choose, the less expensive each item will be – there’s an unspoken rule that the more you buy, the better the prices.

Estate sales require a time investment. The best thing you can do to find great estate sales is to find a handful of estate liquidators in your area that you like and get to know them and the kinds of items they liquidate. Good liquidators will be glad to get to know you and will be happy to establish a relationship that includes fair negotiating. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see what you’re looking for right away. It takes time – so have fun and get to know some great people along the way!